The Lone Ranger is a Myth
Scripture: Romans 15:23–16:27
Synopsis: This is the final message in our series on the Book of Romans, taken from Romans 15:23-16:27. As Paul wraps up his letter with personal notes and greetings, he reveals himself to be a man of deep friendships and personal relationships. We also discover 5 needs that are met as the church gathers together and shares the life of faith in community. Entitled The Lone Ranger Is a Myth, we find out why the concept of “private religion” is not Biblical.
One of my favorite comic book heroes when I was a boy was a character known as the “Lone Ranger.” He was a mysterious character. He wore a mask and rode a white horse. No one knew where he stayed or where he came from, but he had a way of riding onto the scene at just the right moment to rescue people from their troubles. At the conclusion of each episode or story, he would call out to his horse “Hi ho, Silver. Away!” as he rode into the sunset, leaving the people he had rescued to exclaim, “Who was that masked man?”
One of the essential aspects of his persona was captured in that word, “Lone”. This was in contrast and an exception to the other part of his label – Ranger. The Rangers were a law keeping force in the region. But the Rangers worked and rode and fought as a group. But, with the exception of his faithful companion, Tonto, the Lone Ranger rode and fought alone.
The title of my message this morning is “The Lone Ranger Is a Myth.” While the Lone Ranger may be an OK character in a comic book or a TV show, I want to stress that he makes a very poor model for the Christian life. Unfortunately, there are some who attempt to live the Christian life as a kind of Lone Ranger. Their rallying cry is, “Just Jesus and me.” With God as a kind of faithful Tonto, or companion to help out occasionally when needed, they live out their faith in isolation from other believers.
Such thinking is all too common. I had an interesting experience a couple years ago. I was invited to a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence for the official introduction of Reverend Andy Thompsons’s book on the history of Christianity in the UAE. The guest of honor at the occasion was Britain’s Prince Andrew. During the informal discussion, comments were made praising the UAE government for their tolerance of Christians in giving us land and allowing us to gather and worship openly. In the middle of the discussion, Prince Andrew interjected with a question. “Why do Christians have to get together?” he asked. “After all, isn’t religion simply a private matter between each individual and God?”
Such thinking (and acting) is absolutely contradictory to the clear teaching and example of Scripture. If you read the New Testament carefully, you cannot escape the clear conclusion that the Christian life was never intended to be lived as a solitary existence. We are called to live out our Christian faith in community and in relationship with other believers.
This comes out very clearly in the last chapter and a half of the Book of Romans. The theme that stands out to me in this section is simply this: Believers need each other.
In the previous chapters of Romans, we have already clearly established that the believer needs God. We need the righteousness of God which comes by faith in Jesus Christ if we want to be justified. And we need the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God if we desire to be sanctified. But in this closing section of Romans, we also see that we need each other.
Today, we are concluding our study of the Book of Romans after a year and half, and some 37 messages. It almost seems like we should have some kind of party or some kind of celebration to mark the conclusion of such a lengthy journey. We should at least give out diplomas!
This last section would be easy to skip over. Paul has finished teaching and he is being personal. He is talking about his plans, giving prayer requests, and greeting his friends. But as I said last week, we can learn some valuable lessons by just listening to Paul being personal. And one thing we learn is that Paul was a man who was vitally and deeply involved in the lives of other Christians. Paul was no Lone Ranger! And it was not a one-sided relationship, in which Paul did all the giving and teaching. We also see Paul drawing on and enjoying and being strengthened by these mutual relationships and friendships.
As I read through these verses with this theme in mind, I found that there are at least five needs that are met in the context of relationships with other Christians. We might present these as five answers to Prince Andrew’s question: Why do Christians need to get together?
1. The need for mutual instruction.
For this one, we are going to dip back into last week’s text, in Romans 15:14: I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
Notice that underlined section. This sentence uses what is called a reciprocal pronoun, which is translated “one another”. It is at the heart of what I mean when I use the word “mutual”. It is the opposite of one-way. It is two-way; back and forth; you to me and me to you and back again. Paul writes to the Roman believers and says that while, in one sense, he has fulfilled his Apostolic responsibility in writing to them, in another sense, they were not dependent on his coming, because they were able to teach or instruct one another.
The word “instruct” here is not the word for formal, class-room teaching. It focuses on application of the truth to our lives, not just theories and fine sounding ideas. There are people in the church with a special gift for teaching, but we all have the ability and responsibility to instruct one another. We need each other, because we all need this kind of two-way, mutual interaction with the truths of God’s Word. That is also why we all need more than just the Friday morning gatherings of the church, as powerful as they are. We need to be in relationships with each other in which we speak the truth into one another’s lives. It begins in the home and in the family. This is the same word that is used in Ephesians 6:4 where Paul exhorts fathers to bring their children up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord.
But it extends beyond our nuclear families to our spiritual family. Did you notice that Paul addresses his readers in this verse as “brothers.” We are spiritual siblings in the family of God and we have a need to be engaged in mutual instruction.
2. The need for mutual sharing of resources.
This is illustrated in a very practical way in these verses. Let me read Romans 15:25-29:
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Paul is speaking here about a collection that is talked about in the Book of Acts, in which the Gentile churches in what is now Greece and Turkey took up a collection for the suffering Jewish believers in Judea and Jerusalem. But what I like about this section is that it illustrates not only the importance of Christian compassion, but the mutuality of sharing resources within the Body of Christ. The Gentile church received spiritual blessings from the Jewish church, and in turn they shared material blessings with the Jewish church. I also like the vocabulary he uses here. It is not so apparent in the English translations, but the word “contribution” in verse 26 and the word “to share” in verse 27 are the same in the original Greek, and it is the word “koinonia” that is often translated “fellowship.” That is why we call the special offering we take once a month here at ECC our “fellowship offering”. It is a practical way of expressing this mutual sharing of resources to meet one another’s needs.
Paul expands on this in talking about this same offering in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Can you see the mutuality of sharing expressed there? It is a sharing of what one has to meet the needs of someone who does not have. Do you have a spiritual ability? Give it. Do you have financial resources? Give them. Do you have time or energy? Give them. Be alert to needs within the family of God and share what you have to meet those needs and at the same time, remain open to receiving from others and allowing them to meet your needs as well.
3. The need for mutual prayer.
In Romans 15:30-32, we read:
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
Paul began this letter in chapter 1, verse 9-10 by telling the Roman believers that he was praying for them:
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
Now in chapter 15, he asks the Roman Christians to pray for him. Once again, we see this mutuality; the need to pray for one another. We also see that in both cases these prayers are made within the will of God. “That by God’s will I may come…” Paul says. I am reminded of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done…” I am also reminded of Romans 12:2, in which the outcome of placing ourselves as living sacrifices on the altar, is that we will test and approve “the will of God which is good and acceptable and perfect.” If we are to fully experience the will of God in our lives, we need to pray and we need to pray for each other.
I am also struck by the strong vocabulary Paul uses to describe prayer here in Romans 15:30: strive together with me in your prayers… The Greek word is “sunagonizomai”. It is a compound word that begins with the Greek preposition “sun” or “with”. It is another word that expresses fellowship, sharing and mutuality. The next word “agonizomai” is a word of intense struggle or effort or competition. It is based on the root word “agona”, the Greek arena in which the wrestling matches of the day were contested. It shows us that prayer is hard work. It is struggle. It is competition against the forces of darkness as we labor with God to see his will fulfilled in our lives. But we don’t just labor with God. We are called to labor with one another in mutual prayer.
One of the vital ministries of our church is the prayer ministry. Thanks to Pat DuPlessis and her ministry team, prayer requests are collected and disseminated and prayed for each week; there are members of the prayer team available to pray with people after services, and special prayer events and prayer meetings. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Prayer is happening as part of the Life Groups. Our men’s Bible study always starts with a time of prayer. Some of you have prayer partners. Prayer is most effective when it is incorporated into every phase and facet of our lives. Mutual prayer. We need it. Let’s do it. Let’s do more of it. It is one of the reasons we need each other. It is one of the answers to Prince Andrew’s question: Why do Christians need to get together. But the beauty of prayer is that it overcomes time and space. We can pray for each other even when we are not physically together. Paul was writing from Corinth to believers in Rome. But they could meet together at the throne of grace and pray for one another.
4. The need for mutual affection.
I really wasn’t sure quite how to word this one. I could have used the phrase “mutual love”, but really “love” is the summary of everything we are discussing in this sermon. What I am trying to express is the need for deep personal friendships and affection for one another.
In Romans 16:1-16, Paul goes through a long list of personal greetings and in so doing he reveals himself as a man who cared about other people as human beings. It is interesting that while Paul had never personally visited Rome or the church in Rome, he knew many of its members; people he had met on his journeys who were now living in the capital of the empire.
Let’s read a sampling of these greetings:
Romans 16:3-4: Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.
Romans 16:5-9: Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.
Romans 16:12-13: Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.
As we read these greetings, a picture emerges of a man with strong, personal relationship. He called people by name, made some personal comment. He cared about people and they clearly cared about him. They were family.
What about us here at ECC? Are we a family? Do we care for the others around us? It is tough as the church grows larger, isn’t it? It is harder to remember names and put them with the right faces. And the reality is that we can’t know everyone. That is why it so urgent that we break the church down into smaller groups and settings and make the big church small through Life Groups, Bible studies and one-on-one discipleship and friendships. It is also why the time together in the courtyard after church is a vital part of our church life. Don’t rush away. Stay. Visit. Meet your friends. Make new friends. We need each other. We need the mutual friendship and caring that the church can provide. That’s another answer to Prince Andrew’s question. We need to get together – and not just on Friday mornings, but throughout the week in smaller groups and intentional times together.
There is one final need I want to touch on briefly.
5. The need for mutual protection.
Unfortunately, all is not rosy all the time in the church. Problems arise and there are enemies both without and within. Paul makes mention of this is Romans 16:17-18:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Enemies to our unity and to our doctrine abound. And the Bible is clear that such enemies and challenges will multiply as we approach the end of the age. We must “watch out” and warn and protect one another.
During my years living in Africa, we had many encounters with Africa’s wild animals. One species we saw frequently was the baboon. It’s not a particularly attractive species. But they have one trait that I admire and that is their loyalty to each other and the way they protect one another. They live in family groups, and it is almost impossible to take them by surprise, because there are always a few of them posted as lookouts. When they spot danger or a possible threat, the lookouts will call a warning to the others. The mothers with the young ones are quickly rushed to safety, while the stronger ones bring up the rear to defend against an attack.
So it should be with us as Christians. As individuals we are all vulnerable: prey to our own weaknesses, prone to misunderstanding, prone to distort things and get things out of perspective and out of balance; even susceptible to being led astray. We need to be part of a watchful group, ready to protect one another.
We need each other.
As we meet one another’s needs in the ways we have been describing, we can expect certain results.
First, we can expect collective victory over Satan.
Last week, Peter and the worship team led us in a song taken from Romans 16:19-20. Let’s read it again.
For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Satan defeated. Satan crushed under our feet. Isn’t that a great promise and a great image? But as we read that, we need to keep in mind that the pronoun “your” in verse 20 is plural. This is a collective victory. We won’t win this victory by being a lot of “lone rangers”. The result of a together church that is sharing in the mutual life of the Spirit is that Satan is consistently put to rout in life after life as lives are reclaimed by the grace of God.
Second, we will experience refreshing rest.
This is one of the reasons Paul looked forward to visiting the church in Rome. He refers to it in Romans 15:24: I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
The image Paul uses here is that of eating a meal or drinking a refreshing drink until one is satisfied or full.
In verse 32 he says, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
The word refreshed literally speaks of being rested. Do you enjoy getting together with other Christians? Do you leave Friday services feeling refreshed, encouraged, strengthened? Do you look forward to your Life Group meeting? I often have people tell me that without ECC and without their home fellowship or life group and the support and encouragement they received, they wouldn’t have made it through their time here in Abu Dhabi. Those same people often describe ECC as “an oasis in the desert”. I am encouraged when I hear that. It means that we are fulfillingour calling to be a family; the family of God here in Abu Dhabi.
Fellow believers, we need each other. Let’s not try to make it on our own. God isn’t looking for Lone Rangers. He created us for fellowship with him and also for fellowship with one another.
Well, we’ve done it! We have reached the end of the Book of Romans! To conclude, Paul directs one last word of praise and benediction toward heaven. In this letter he has been expounding what he has referred to as the Gospel of God. Now he directs his praise to the God of the Gospel.
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!
And everyone said, Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- In this sermon, Pastor Cam quoted Prince Andrew: “Why do Christians have to get together? After all, isn’t religion simply a private matter between each individual and God?” Do you agree or disagree? Why? In your experience how common is this kind of thinking?
- The sermon lists five needs that are met by Christians meeting together. Can you remember what they are?
- As you look at this list, which of these areas are we doing well at ECC? Which ones not so well? How can we do better?
- What role does your Life Group or Bible study play in meeting these needs?